The activity of hepatic protein N-glycosylation was compared in rats of different ages by incubating UDP-[14C]glucose with liver microsomes. Dolichyl-phosphate [14C]glucose, [14C]glucosyl-oligosaccharide-lipid and [14C]glycoproteins formed were increased after birth to maximal levels at 2 weeks; thereafter dolichylphosphate [14C]glucose remained constant, while [14C]glucosyl-oligosaccharide-lipid and [14C]glycoproteins were decreased to constant levels at 4 weeks. The postnatal change in the formation of [14C]glycoproteins was similar to the change in the hexosamine content of N-glycans in liver microsomes and plasma, suggesting that the N-glycosylation of proteins in rat liver increases after birth to a maximum at 2 weeks, and thereafter decreases to a constant level at 4 weeks. The possibility of a regulatory role for dolichyl phosphate in glycoprotein synthesis in rat liver during postnatal development was eliminated by demonstrating the inefficiency of exogenous dolichyl phosphate on the postnatal changes in [14C]glycoprotein formation. The transfer of [14C]glucose from UDP-[14C]glucose to denatured alpha-lactalbumin in liver microsomes increased to a maximum at 2 weeks and then decreased to a constant level, as with transfer to endogenous proteins (i.e. the formation of [14C]glycoproteins). On the other hand, the transfer of oligosaccharide from exogenous [14C]glucosyl-oligosaccharide-lipid to denatured alpha-lactalbumin reached a maximum at 2 weeks and then remained constant. These results strongly suggest that oligosaccharide-lipid available for N-glycosylation is limiting in rat liver after 2 weeks post partum. The activities of dolichyl-phosphate glucose, dolichyl-phosphate mannose and dolichyl-pyrophosphate N-acetylglucosamine synthases increased until 2 weeks post partum. Thereafter, the activity of dolichyl-pyrophosphate N-acetylglucosamine synthase decreased to a constant level at 4 weeks, while the activities of dolichyl-phosphate glucose and dolichyl-phosphate mannose synthases remained constant. These results suggest that N-glycosylation of proteins in rat liver increases until 2 weeks post partum, and that this depends on the activities of dolichol-pathway enzymes as a whole rather than on the activity of specific enzymes. N-Glycosylation then decreases to a constant level at 4 weeks due to decreases in the activities of enzymes responsible for oligosaccharide assembly on lipids, including dolichyl-pyrophosphate N-acetylglucosamine synthase.

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